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From Kansas City to Sudan, Gak assists brothers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The photos and posters in John Gak’s apartment hang almost flush with the ceiling. For Gak, who stands easily at 6 feet 5 inches, everything he sees — including a small photo of his wife, living in Egypt — is eye-level.

“I am a member of the Dinka tribe, notable for their long legs and tall stature,” he said “You can easily pick one out in a crowd.”

Gak’s modest apartment has served as home to other tall young men from the east African country of Sudan. They are called “Lost Boys” — and several of them told the Chronicle that the name accurately describes their lives.

Orphans from a bloody civil war, they fled to refugee camps along Sudan’s borders with Kenya, Ethiopia and others.
In 1999, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department referred about 3,300 Lost Boys for resettlement. That same year Gak, a member of the Gladstone church, rallied leaders in Kansas City’s religious groups, along with city officials, to help.

Gak and other Sudanese immigrants formed Brother’s Organization for Relief (BOR), which assists Sudanese living in Kansas City to find apartments, jobs and helps them enroll in college.

Gak, 36, has lived a different life from the youths he serves through BOR — an acronym that shares its name with the county in southern Sudan where he was raised. Born the youngest of seven siblings, Gak moved to northern Sudan and finished high school in 1983. The same year, then-president Ja’far Numayri imposed shari’ah (Islamic law) on Sudan, and civil war broke out in the south between government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by John Garang.

Gak was able to avoid much of the fighting, studying at a university in Cairo, Egypt. With specialized training in welding, he spent his summers working for a petroleum company — working on pipelines throughout the Middle East. He visited Mecca, the Muslim holy city in Saudi Arabia, and even worked in Iraq.

But Gak didn’t remain on the sidelines of the war that was devastating his home country. After completing his studies in Cairo, he began working for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), at war with Muslim-controlled north Sudan. The SPLA sent him to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to recruit soldiers.

In the early 1990s, Gak moved to Nairobi, Kenya, to continue recruiting among the Sudanese refugees there.

One day, while shopping, Gak was approached by a group of Christians who wanted to talk. He started studying the Bible with them — and with American missionary Joe McKissick.

“When I came back (from the Middle East) I had some money in my hand, and political (power) in the SPLA,” Gak said. But he realized that he didn’t have the peace and hope he saw in the eyes of the Kenyan church members.

He asked McKissick to immerse him on a Wednesday evening in Nairobi.

McKissick, now living in Abilene, Texas, joked that Gak’s legs were “almost too long for the baptistery.”

Gak wanted to become a minister, and McKissick contacted a preacher training school in the United States. But, at the time, he didn’t meet the language requirement for the program.

Gak was undeterred. He contacted the Don Bosco Community Center, a Kansas City-based agency that has assisted in resettling refugees since the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1975. The agency helped him move to Kansas City in 1995.

“He’s got dogged determination,” McKissick told the Chronicle. “I couldn’t help him, but he found his own way.”

Kevin Bullard, minister for the Gladstone church, said that Gak approached him about launching a ministry to help the resettled Sudanese. The church gave him office space, and BOR was born. Gak is an active member of the Gladstone church, said Bullard, who also serves as BOR’s vice president.

Today the turmoil in Sudan is far from over, evidenced by the recent conflict in the Darfur region in the western part of the country. But many refugees have returned to their homes in the southern region, and several ministries are providing relief and training as the returning Sudanese plant new congregations.

BOR is no exception. In late July, Gak was scheduled to return to his home county to assess its educational and spiritual needs. Accompanying him was Gerald McGill, ministering evangelist for the Swope Parkway church, Kansas City. The church was looking for a way to participate in global missions and read a story about BOR in the August 2003 issue of the Chronicle.

After meeting with Gak, McGill said that he was impressed that “he didn’t want money. He wanted us to be aware. He really wanted us to go over there and see.” McGill said that Gak speaks with passion about the work in Sudan, and that, in the Swope Parkway church, “the seed has been planted.”

Though it’s been years since Gak saw his home country, he has made recent trips to Egypt, where he was married in 2002 to Ajabol Deng. The couple has encountered several roadblocks as they’ve attempted to file the necessary paperwork to allow Gak’s new bride to enter the United States, Bullard said.

But Gak is no stranger to hardship or the determination to overcome it.
“God brought me to the United States to be the messenger about what is happening in my home country of Sudan,” he said. “Since I have founded Brother’s Organization for Relief, I have seen that Christian brothers and sisters really do care very much and want to help their brothers and sisters in southern Sudan.”

For more information about BOR, contact the Gladstone church, Kansas City, Mo., at (816) 452-2077.

Filed under: People

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